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Holtby Blanks Boston in Key Caps Victory

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Holtby Blanks Boston in Key Caps Victory

Posted on 15 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After Friday night’s debacle to the Dallas Stars, things were not good in Washington Capitals land. They lacked effort and intensity in arguably their worst performance of the season and were 1-3 on a five game home stand. Following the loss their head coach, Barry Trotz, told the team to “fix it.”

On Sunday night against the Boston Bruins, who had tied them with 82 standings points following their blanking of the Penguins on Saturday afternoon, the Caps gave one of their best efforts of the campaign. Braden Holtby, who was pulled in the loss on Friday, was superb in net stopping all 32 shots he faced and frustrated a chippy Beantown club en route to a 2-0 victory.

Nicklas Backstrom added two helpers to take over the franchise all time assist lead and Alex Ovechkin, despite having no points, was on the ice and a factor in both Washington tallies. In addition to the Caps stars showing up, the lunch pail guys brought their game with a vengeance, including second year man Tom Wilson who was physical on the puck and had the Bruins going after him all night. In fact it was Willie’s big hit on Ryan Spooner that angered Brad “the Rat” Marchand, who promptly jumped #43 and took a two minute minor that should have been at least four minutes (bad zebras, once again).

John Carlson would laser a point shot by Tuukka Rask, who is now 0-4-2 in his career at the Verizon Center, on the resulting power play to give the Capitals a key 1-0 lead. Boston, who has been red hot lately, had scored the first goal in their last 11 contests.

The Caps would dominate the first two periods and Nate Schmidt would post the only other marker in the middle frame on a point blast that hit Greg Campbell and went in. It was a lucky bounce, but usually in sports the team that works harder gets the bounces. The Capitals were the harder working club on Sunday, something that was not the case in their previous two losses.

This game probably should’ve been over after 40 minutes but Rask was very good and kept his club alive for a potential third period push. Despite two power plays and pulling their goalie late, the Bruins just couldn’t get the biscuit past Holtby. Boston tried everything, including having Milan Lucic slash him and do whatever he could to rattle #70, but Holtbeast simply ignored #17 and stoned the Bruins attempts with solid positioning and a super glove hand. The Caps, who were missing Brooks Orpik on the blue line for the third straight tilt, did a good job of keeping the Bruins to the outside and only allowed nine shots on the cage in the final frame. For the night, the Capitals frustrated Boston by blocking 26 shot attempts.

This was a huge victory because Washington now moves back into the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference standings and they are seven points up on the streaking Ottawa Senators (11-1-1 in their last 13 games), who are in 9th place behind Boston. The Caps are just four and six points behind the Penguins and Islanders, respectively, in the Metropolitan Division. A victory on Monday night in Buffalo would get the Capitals even closer to those teams and more importantly, closer to clinching a playoff spot. The Caps have 12 games remaining so a win against the Sabres would put them at 86 points and 95 should be enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So, just 48 hours after a dismal performance and the potential for doom and gloom, the Capitals went out and beat a strong Boston Bruins club in a heavy and physical contest. It was a super team performance backed by stellar goaltending from Holtby, who earned his 8th shutout of the season.

The club only earned two points for the victory, but this one seems bigger and sets the team up well to get to the playoff dance that they so badly want to make and then excel in.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Bruins 38-32 but Boston won the shot attempt battle, 70-63. The Bruins had four power plays to just one for the Caps, which doesn’t add up based on the Caps dominating much of the play. Unblocked shot attempts had the Caps up 53-44…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 36-27. Patrice Bergeron is the best draw man in the NHL and he went 18-7…Matt Niskanen led Washington in ice time with 25:00.

 

 

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Caps Mistakes Costly in 3-1 Defeat to Rangers

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Caps Mistakes Costly in 3-1 Defeat to Rangers

Posted on 12 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, you’ll often hear coaches talk about bad losses and good losses.

On Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz would not categorize the Caps 3-1 defeat to the New York Rangers as a bad loss.

Despite the post game reaction from numerous Caps fans on twitter, where it seemed several people were out on the ledge and ready to leap, I definitely agree with the Washington bench boss.

Sure the Rangers were playing their third game in four nights, but the Caps were missing two of their top five defensemen in Mike Green and Brooks Orpik and their top center, Nicklas Backstrom, was playing with a bad stomach bug that prevented him from skating for four days. So coming into this contest against the Blueshirts, who I believe are the best team in the NHL right now and will likely win the Eastern Conference and perhaps the Presidents’ Trophy, I didn’t have a good feeling for the Caps given that Nate Schmidt was playing his first NHL game in over two months and Cameron Schilling was also in the starting lineup on defense.

The inexperience and lack of skill on the blueline is something we saw help wreck the Capitals post season appearance streak last spring and to be honest, the defensive lineup iced on Wednesday night was a bit reminiscent of last year’s club that routinely featured two or more AHL calibre players. As expected, the youth led to the Rangers first tally when Schmidt was beaten badly in the neutral zone. Then on the second New York marker, Tim Gleason, who was playing the off side for him, tried to go high glass on a dump out and the puck hit the stanchion and allowed the Rangers to get a quick three on two that J.T. Miller buried short side on Braden Holtby (28 saves).

The Caps would get a good bounce on Alexander Ovechkin’s power play tally in the opening frame and the Gr8 now has 45 goals on the season. The first period was pretty even, shot attempts favored the Caps 21-20, but the Rangers led because of the two costly Capital miscues.

Washington would open period two on a lengthy five on three (78 seconds) but the Caps couldn’t score. Cam Talbot, who was sensational in this contest, especially in period three, made a highway robbery glove save on Backstrom and that turned the game around, giving the Rangers a boost that they used to carry the play in the middle stanza. The Rangers would out shot attempt the Caps, 23-12, in period two.

“To be honest with you, five on three was my mistakes, I just missed the net. It’s kind of the moment you have to score. Especially when they give you a chance and they give you an opportunity to shoot so it was total blame on me,” said Ovechkin.

“When you don’t score off a five on three of that extent, that usually swings the momentum and then they got a few power plays that we killed off, but it took a little bit of steam out of our game,” added Matt Niskanen, who was outstanding for the Caps in 28:10 of ice time (led all players).

In the final frame, the Capitals threw the kitchen sink at Talbot, but he was a brick wall. #33, who has been superb in relief of an injured Henrik Lundqvist, was easily the game’s first star and he made numerous point blank saves. Trotz pointed out afterwards that the Caps had an 8-1 edge in quality chances in period three, but the only goal came for the Rangers when Tom Kreider picked off John Carlson’s cross ice pass and fed Martin “Caps Killer” St. Louis on a two on none break for the game closing tally. In that last 20 minutes, the Caps out shot attempted a fatigued Rangers club, 35-10.

Overall for the game, the Caps won the shot attempt battle, 68-53, but all that matters is the 3-1 final score. The Rangers are a very good team and they can roll four lines and three defensive pairs. That’s part of why they were able to go 3-0 in this tough three game in four nights stretch against the Blackhawks, Islanders, and Caps. The biggest reason they won on Wednesday was Talbot and the team’s ability to protect a one goal lead, something they’ve been strong at for several seasons.

“When they get the lead, they just put four guys close to the net and they block lots of shots. Again, it was not surprising at all. They are a pretty solid team, they know how to play, and they were in the Stanley Cup Final last year,” stated Ovechkin.

The Rangers have a very good team and could easily win the Stanley Cup, so losing a close game in which you out chanced your opponent is nothing to hang your head on. The Caps were shorthanded on the back end and one of their best forwards wasn’t right, yet they were in the game until the end and likely find a way to win against many other goalies. But they lost and now they have to watch out that they don’t drop to the second wild card spot with the Boston Bruins charging hard in the standings.

With the Rangers looking like a good bet to win the East, the Caps must avoid a first round match up with the Blueshirts, so they can’t afford to fall to the second wild card slot.

In the end, the Caps played hard but made too many mistakes to win and the Rangers net minder was the big difference. Losing is no fun, but Ovechkin summed things up pretty good afterwards.

“I think we play a good game, a couple of bounces cost us a victory or at least one point. It’s a situation when you have to just forget about it and move forward. But it’s kind of disappointing when you have that kind of chance to move closer to an opponent or a team who is in front of you,” finished the Gr8.

Certainly the Caps can’t be happy with losing, as every standings point matters, but they did do a lot of good things against the best team in hockey on Wednesday night.

Notes: Joel Ward assisted on the Ovechkin goal and he was one of the Caps best forwards in 18:25 of ice time…Trotz limited Backstrom to 18:38 due to his stomach virus…the Caps won the face off battle 38-29. Eric Fehr was 12-3…Jay Beagle was hit hard, but cleanly, by Dan Girardi in period two. #83 would return for a shift or so but then left the contest for the third period due to an upper body injury…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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Ovechkin Scores Twice in Another Caps Victory

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Ovechkin Scores Twice in Another Caps Victory

Posted on 03 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

At 29 years young, Alexander Ovechkin is playing the best hockey of his career.

On Tuesday night, the Gr8 scored twice, including the eventual game winner, to increase his NHL leading goal scoring total to 43, and more importantly, was the primary reason the Washington Capitals got two points in a chippy contest in Columbus.

Maybe it’s the cannon or perhaps it’s the fact that the Blue Jackets are banged up and have to ice some real thug type players, but it seems each time these two teams have played this season it’s been a battle that has teetered on the edge. In this one, you could argue that things got out of hand with four fights. Certainly referee Dan O’Halloran didn’t have one of his better nights and it culminated with head coach Barry Trotz letting the zebra have it after the final horn for calling Marcus Johansson for delay of game with 2:16 remaining when #90’s stick was clearly broken. I don’t think I’ve seen that one before.

Anyways, Jojo would get the last laugh scoring the empty net clincher to make it 5-3 after a beast of a penalty kill by Brooks Orpik and the Caps. Orpik was outstanding in this contest and he notched his 16th assist of the season in 23:25 of ice time (second on the Caps to John Carlson with 23:51). The Caps are undefeated when #44 gets a point this season (14-0).

This was a game that started perfectly for the Capitals as they scored twice in the opening 20 minutes and dominated in all facets, including 16-6 in shots on goal. But the middle frame turned into a Twilight Zone episode as Washington became unraveled when Jared Boll took a run at Michael Latta and hit him in the head. Tom Wilson, who had just scored to make it 3-1, would fight Boll and add an instigator minor plus a 10 minute misconduct. Boll somehow was called for the fight and just two minutes for charging on a cheap shot that should be reviewed by a league that claims to want to distance itself from head shots. That weak call led to more tom foolery and took the Capitals off of their game. The Blue Jackets would dominate the middle period and pulled to within 3-2. During that stanza, Braden Holtby (27 saves) denied Scott Hartnell (2 goals, 1 assist) on a penalty shot.

Fortunately for Washington, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) would hook up on another tally, with #19 making a sweet cross ice feed to the Gr8 on the power play. Ovechkin rifled the biscuit by Sergei Brobovsky, who returned to action on Tuesday for the first time since being injured on January 21st, to make it 4-2. After a poor slashing penalty by Troy Brouwer, Hartnell scored again to cut it to 4-3 and then the Caps sweated it out down the stretch before closing the game out on the empty net tally.

There were things to like in this game for Washington, especially the way they played in period one when all of the trade deadline tension seemed to be finally out of their system. In addition, Ovechkin continues to dominate and he had eight shots on goal. Tim Gleason had a solid second start as a Capital in just 14:14 of ice time and he had the primary assist on Eric Fehr’s rebound tally that made it 2-0.

On the flip side, the Caps have to stop getting involved in the rough stuff. It’s one thing to protect teammates and be tough, but getting caught up in the crap Columbus was trying to pull only detracts from the skill the Capitals rely on. Yes, Washington is a big and physical squad and unlike years past, you aren’t going to push them around. But you can get them off of their game and barking at the opponent and referees, at times. That’s something Trotz needs to put a halt to quickly. When Washington plays its game, they are very hard to defeat. In addition to getting dragged into the stupid stuff, the Capitals didn’t get a strong performance from their second line. Evgeny Kuznetsov was off again and it is now nine straight games he’s gone without a point. He was -2 in this tilt and #92 is clearly struggling big time. He’s -7 over those last nine games and his line is getting routinely outplayed. He may need a game off just to reset.

But despite all of the craziness in this contest, when you step back and analyze it, this was once again a truly fantastic performance by Ovechkin, who is having another MVP-type season.

Notes: Washington is now 35-20-10 (80 points) and 11 points ahead of the 9th place Florida Panthers…the Caps won the face off battle, 31-28, while the Blue Jackets won the shot attempt tally, 51-48…Latta did not return after the Boll cheap shot…Jason Chimera had two assists and a fight…Curtis Glencross made his Capitals debut and was a -2 in 12:10 of ice time…Backstrom leads the NHL in assists with 49 and he and Ovechkin are tied for the NHL points lead with 67…next up for the Caps are a red hot Minnesota Wild team at the Verizon Center on Thursday night at 7 pm.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Blanking of Leafs

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Blanking of Leafs

Posted on 01 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After three straight losses and several slow starts, the Washington Capitals needed to jump out to a quick lead on Sunday night.

NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin made sure his club would get an early cushion as he scored just 33 seconds into the contest. The Gr8 would make it 2-0 on a backhander in period two after a nice point shot from Brooks Orpik and then he added an assist on Marcus Johansson’s power play goal that increased the lead to 3-0. Joel Ward would hit the empty net and send a terrible Toronto Maple Leafs on its way out of the Verizon Center, 4-0 losers.

In goal, Braden Holtby was, to quote Billy Crystal, “Maaahhhvelous!” as he stopped 32 shots, with some quality ones to boot, en route to his seventh shutout of the season (and 30th win).

The Caps were not pretty in this victory, they still looked sloppy, at times, and weren’t totally in sync, but it was a step in the right direction after their play had really tailed off in the last week.

Tim Gleason, acquired on Saturday in a trade for Jack Hillen and a 4th round pick, made his Caps debut and was very solid in 18:34 of ice time. It’s only one game, but #6 looks like a significant upgrade on that 3rd pairing and it allows Mike Green to play more minutes. Coach Barry Trotz was able to spread his ice time around with the quality blue line and the 4-0 score helped too. Matt Niskanen was the Caps ice time leader and he only logged 20:25. Balancing ice time like that keeps players fresh and reduces the risk of injury.

Up front, well, after the first line, the Capitals still are struggling. Andre Burakovsky played up with the Gr8 and Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and #65 was the clear weak link. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has struggled recently, was bumped down to the fourth line, centering Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson, and they had an up and down night, but finished with a decent third period. Jason Chimera took Laich’s spot on the third line and #25, who could be being showcased for a potential trade, also received some early power play time. The second line was centered by Jay Beagle and featured Troy Brouwer and Johansson.

In addition to the players that suited up on Sunday night, General Manager Brian MacLellan traded 2nd and 3rd round picks to Calgary and acquired Curtis Glencross. Glencross, who will wear #22, is 32 years old and is a fast skater. He’s not a top six forward but he’s an upgrade over some of the other Caps bottom six forwards. With the log jam on those two lines, one has to wonder if the Caps GM is still working on a bigger deal to acquire a top six forward by the 3 pm deadline?

We’ll find out about that soon enough, but the whole team will have to be happy when that time passes since it’s been clear to me that the deadline has been a distraction to this club. They have not appeared focused and many have lacked energy, which is a clear byproduct of worrying about what the future holds.

So after this victory over the disastrous Leafs, the Caps are now 34-20-10 (78 points). With 18 games left, a .500 finish easily puts them in the playoffs. So therefore, the focus in the last 18 games has to be to get some continuity going with the forward lines. The defense is set and Holtby is playing the best hockey of his career. Trotz will also look to rest players and the team needs to focus on the matchup they desire for the first round, or perhaps more importantly, one they don’t want.

To me, the match up they don’t want is the New York Rangers, who acquired defensemen Keith Yandle on Sunday in exchange for d-man John Moore, a prospect, and some draft picks. It’s clear the Rags are all in and the Capitals play them three times over the next six weeks. New York has great speed and that’s been something the Caps have had trouble handling. Adding Glencross certainly helps and Gleason has good wheels, as well as size, too. But the Rangers have Henrik Lunqvist and two really strong lines, assuming Rick Nash is healthy for the post season, so they could be the toughest out in the East.

Plenty of time to worry about that though, the Caps need to get back to finding their game, and that starts with working hard and moving their feet so they can work up and down the ice in a five man unit. The team has lost that over the last couple of weeks and need to get back to that in order to peak their game in April and May.

Notes: Ovechkin now leads the NHL in scoring with 41 goals and 65 points….the Gr8 was named the NHL’s 3rd star for the month of February and he’s now started March out with a bang…shot attempts were 63-60 for the Leafs, but they were trailing a lot and the blind zebras gave Toronto four power plays to Washington’s two. I didn’t think the officiating was consistent at all on Sunday but Washington was good enough and the Leafs were bad enough that it just didn’t matter…Toronto won the face off battle, 32-31…next up for the Caps are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at 7 pm. Will Washington silence the cannon in a building they’ve struggled in for several years?

 

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Caps Lose Game & Season Series to the Flyers

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Caps Lose Game & Season Series to the Flyers

Posted on 22 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

1-2-1.

That is the Capitals final 2014-15 record against the Philadelphia Flyers following Sunday’s 3-2 defeat in Filthy.

That is unacceptable to Capitals fans, plain and simple.

The good news is despite the lousy and very lackluster efforts the Caps exhibited versus their despised rivals from up I-95, Washington will return to the post season this spring while Claude Giroux and company will most likely start slapping Titleist’s around once the regular season ends.

Still, Sunday’s effort was terrible, especially the first period. Perhaps the fact that some crazy Flyers fan pulled the fire alarm at the team hotel at 1:30 am messed the Capitals up today and caused them to play a sleepy game? Or maybe the Flyers match up well with the Caps? Or perhaps the line up that Coach Barry Trotz iced today caused the team to be out of sync?

I’ll go with questions number one and number three from above.

The Flyers are not a good team and their defense is weak. The Capitals should cream these guys assuming they stay out of the box.

There’s one big problem from Sunday, the Caps took too many early penalties and as a result the Flyers scored their first two goals on the power play, the second of which was on a five on three, to take a 2-0 lead.

As for the Washington power play, well it stunk to high heaven on Sunday going 0 for 5 against the 28th ranked PK unit in the league.  Assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that group because too many pucks were being forced to Alex Ovechkin when there were other openings. The team also needs to learn to just simplify and shoot with traffic. The 6 on 4 at the end of the game was absolutely putrid.

It also helps if you have your line up in sync and the one Trotz put out there on Sunday smelled like the city they were playing in. Out was Andre Burakovsky and in went Michael Latta. A top line that dominated on Saturday against the Islanders until the coaches stopped playing them late in regulation was transformed into one that started with Jay Beagle on right wing, but he took a penalty on the opening shift. Marcus Johansson, who was subpar on line number two on Saturday, then moved to the top unit thereafter and didn’t play well there either.

In addition, Cameron Schilling was put in on the third defensive pairing while Jack Hillen was scratched. Trotz told the media afterwards that they are evaluating depth options on defense in preparation for next Monday’s trade deadline (March 2nd). So I’m okay with that one, but the Burakovsky move and subsequent domino effect is a head scratcher.

In the last seven games that #65 has played the Capitals are 7-0-0 and he is a +8, with no minus games. Burakovsky has been strong on the puck and has the high end talent to play with the highly skilled Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The analytics seem to support the value Burakovsky provides to the team’s puck possession statistics, as well. On the contrary, when Jason Chimera has been in the lineup the last six times the Caps are 3-3 and he is -2 with no plus games. Still, there we were late in the Flyers game down a goal and Chimera is out on the power play while Burakovsky is up eating nachos in the press box. In addition, Chimera had 1:27 of man advantage time while Eric Fehr received none. Makes little sense to me.

Thankfully there are only eight days until the trade deadline and then after that the Capitals hopefully finalize their roster and stop with this revolving door of a lineup. Washington needs to build some continuity and confidence over the last month plus of the season so they are ready for the playoffs in a wide open Eastern Conference.

On Sunday, they did nothing of the sort and Michael Del Zotto, who was key in the Rangers playoffs series wins over the Caps in 2012 and 2013, scored the game winner to send Washington with their tails between their legs on the train back to DC.

Trotz has done a lot of good things with this team in bringing them together, getting them to commit to the new system, getting Braden Holtby back on track, and solidifying the blue line, but when it comes to lineup choices and stability as well as late game decision making, that’s where he and his staff need to improve if the Capitals want to go deep in the post season.

Make no mistake about this, the Capitals are an infinitely better team than they were a season ago under the horrible Adam Oates experiment that was made worse by some terrible personnel moves by the departed George McPhee. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have done a super job of turning things around. Kudos to them for what they’ve done and the high expectations the fan base has are a result of their immediate success.

However, everyone can improve and there are still no Stanley Cup banners hanging from the Verizon Center ceiling. This team has the potential to make a run at the Cup but they have to properly use their assets. The coaching staff has done a lot of good things, but they can still be better. Hopefully they are learning what doesn’t work when leading, like shortening the bench and not playing Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin, who are top puck possessors. In addition, icing the best possible lineup is something that can be improved upon, which means putting skill players like Burakovsky in the top six and slotting the bottom six guys where they belong.

1-2-1 against the Flyers. I don’t like it at all.

But Wednesday they have a chance to go 4-0 against the Penguins. Doing that would make the fan base feel a lot better about their despicable performance against the Flyers this season.

Still, it’s all about the playoffs and that’s where the coaches need to be focused and improve in the aforementioned areas.

Notes: The Caps fall to 33-18-10 and back to 4th place in the Metropolitan Division…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 23:46, but he and Backstrom were held pointless…Holtby made 25 saves and appeared to be interfered with on the game winning goal, but that was set up by a terrible Capitals line change that gave Del Zotto far too much room…shot attempts were even at 54 for this one but the Flyers had more on net, 28-23.

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

Posted on 19 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since February 8th, the Nation’s Capital had their Dynamic Duo back in town at the Verizon Center, and boy did those two put on a hockey clinic.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and added an assist while Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals trounced the Winnipeg Jets, 5-1, on Thursday night.

Backstrom is now tied for the NHL lead in points (Patrick Kane) with 63 while leading the league in assists with 45. Ovechkin now has 38 goals to lead the NHL and he has 61 points, 3rd best in the NHL.

This had the makings of a classic trap game since it was Washington’s first home game after a cross country four game road trip.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed some good mental fortitude and showed up to play from the opening drop of the puck. The Caps tallied 14 minutes in on a John Carlson power play blast that looked to be deflected along the way. Then Ovechkin made an amazing play on the left wing to make it 2-0 with 1:25 to go in the opening frame.

Those two first period markers were ultra important because it brought the Verizon Center to life and the Caps were 18-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes (h/t Mike Vogel). Winnipeg would get a fluky goal to cut it to 2-1 but then the Jets, who are the most penalized team in the NHL, did what they do best, started a parade to the penalty box to feel shame. Winnipeg took four penalties in a row and the Caps scored twice, both times with a delayed penalty being signaled. Backstrom made it 3-1 when he was simply trying to get the puck to the goalie to start a five on three (good things happen when you shoot) and then Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin fed #19 beautifully for the 4th goal with the Jets about to be whistled for too many dudes on the ice.

Troy Brouwer would add a shorthanded empty net goal with 6:27 remaining to seal the deal for Washington.

Braden Holtby was strong, when needed, in the cage again yielding only one tally on 20 shots. The Caps puck support was outstanding in this game and thus the Jets really didn’t get many good looks. They had the occasional strong cycle shift, but overall the Capitals kept the Jets speed and size in check. It was another impressive performance by the Caps in all zones.

“I thought we managed the game really well. In the third period, you’re up 4-1, you could easily forget detail, and you could forget a lot of stuff. We managed the game. We just kept playing, and it gets really frustrating for the other team. Everybody was doing their job, and when you’re doing your job and there’s no cheat in your game you get a lot done as a group of 20 every night,” said Trotz on a night his team once again maintained their focus.

With a near perfect night by the Caps over and done with, the Caps focus now moves to their last regular season meetings with the first place Islanders, the punks from Philly (Flyers), and the Penguins that will take place Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, respectively.

“It’s a fun, interesting division right now. Everyone seems to be playing pretty good. The only way to really make up any ground is to beat those teams that are right in front of us. It’s a massive challenge. We are excited about it. We haven’t seen them (the Islanders) in quite a while. It’s a big week for us. We need to string some winning streaks together, not just two or three, so it’s important,” said Karl Alzner, who is quietly having his best season as a Capital, on the upcoming slate of games.

The Capitals are certainly playing well. They are playing solid defense, getting good goaltending, and their checking line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward is stopping the opponents top line.

Most importantly, though, the Dynamic Duo of Ovechkin and Backstrom are playing at an ultra elite level and that is making Washington a very tough team to defeat.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shots on goal while Backstrom had five…shot attempt game totals were 62-59 in favor of the Jets… the Caps were 3 for 6 on the power play while Winnipeg was 0 for 3…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-27…Washington is now 32-17-10 (74 points)…Jason Chimera was scratched for the 2nd straight game.

 

 

 

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Caps fans have been waiting a long time for Evgeny Kuznetsov to deliver on the promise that so many hockey fans saw when he carried Team Russia on his back to win the 2012 Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships. Lately, that skill, ability, and desire to dominate has begun to show up on a more regular basis.

On Friday, against the team with the best record in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, #92 set up both Capitals goals with amazing passes and he also notched a marker in the shootout to lead his squad to a 3-2 win over Bruce Boudreau’s boys. It was a big win for Washington after playing in Ottawa on Thursday night and they improve to 28-15-10 (66 points). For the Capitals this was their third win in a row and they take on “you know who” on Sunday to try and gain a four game winning streak for the first time this season. But more on those punks from up I-95 in a few paragraphs.

Philip Grubauer was recalled to face the Ducks after the Caps had to travel from the Great White North late last night. #31 was very solid in net and the team played well in front of him. Sure, the 2nd goal he allowed was weak, but overall Gru did what this squad needed, stop enough pucks so they could finally win a game without Braden Holtby in net. Grubauer has been excellent in Hershey this year playing lots of minutes and Coach Barry Trotz stated that he’ll head back there tonight. The rationale for waiting so long to give Gru a game appears to be that Washington is trying to save as many recalls as possible for after the trade deadline, at least that is what Trotzy alluded to after the game.

Anyways, the schedule gets better going forward for Washington and as Caps ace beat writer Mike Vogel pointed out, the Caps played two recent stretches of 7 games in 11 nights and went 4-2-1 in each set. That is some very good hockey there.

Speaking of good hockey, Troy Brouwer had another outstanding game making the diving keep in of the night to allow Kuznetsov to set up Jason Chimera for an easy 1st goal. Then #20’s screen in front on Ilya “Humongous” Bryzgalov allowed John Carlson to score what should’ve been the game winner in regulation.

But Corey Perry got a cheapie on Grubauer, he’s a great goal scorer so you expect #10 to get the bounces, and he did on that play (Grubauer needed to have the post covered better too). That forced overtime and then “the gimmick.”

The Caps were 1-4 in the shootout and the Ducks 7-4 coming in so, go figure, Washington won this one.

Overall, this was a slower than normal game as both teams showed the wear and tear of playing Thursday. Both were missing superstars as the Ducks were without Ryan Getzlaf and the Capitals scratched Mike Green very late, presumably due to complications from the ugly knee-to-knee hit he took from Chris Phillips the night before. The referees didn’t call that one and they only whistled the clubs for three infractions on Friday, and you probably can guess who had fewer power plays (starts with C and rhymes with Saps).

Speaking of saps, the Philadelphia Flyers come to town on Sunday afternoon. The club formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is on a recent hot streak, going 6-3-1 over their last 10 tilts. Their best players are Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and both give the Capitals fits. Wayne Simmonds is the Flyers chief punk these days and Philadelphia may be looking for retribution after Matt Niskanen put Flyers forward Scott Laughton into March with a clean, open ice hit back on January 14th. It’s no secret that the Flyers are the Capitals longest and most despised rival so these games, no matter the records of the teams, always carry a little extra meaning. Most Caps fans, in a voice like Newman from Seinfeld lore, would say, “I deeespise the Flyers!” Who can forget those old brawls at the Capital Centre where the arena had to call in extra security to police all of the drunken fights in the stands? Ah, memories.

Anyways, this is a chance for Washington to really bury their long time rivals in the standings. Philly lost last time in Washington, 1-0, but the Capitals hung on for dear life in that one. You can bet there will be a buzz in the air on Sunday and hopefully there won’t be too much orange in the crowd. There’s a good chance they’ll be some scraps on the ice too, particularly since the Flyers tend to play dirty, especially when they are losing.

It should be a great game and it’s also a celebration on television for long time Caps announcer Smokin’ Al Koken. Smokin’ is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and I’ve known him since he came to town 30 years ago. Koken will spend a period in each of the different broadcasting roles on Sunday: play by play, analyst, and rink reporter. Al is a super guy and I know he’d like nothing more than for Washington to defeat their biggest rival on his special day.

Game time is 3 pm on Sunday, so go ahead and start your tailgating right away.

Notes: Washington dominated the shot attempt battle, 64-51…the Caps also out shot the Ducks, 34-25…Kuznetsov had two assists and was +2 in 18:30 of ice time…Niskanen played 28:51 to lead all players in ice time…Washington won the face off battle, 34-30. Eric Fehr went 9-3…Nicklas Backstrom didn’t have one of his better games but he notched the shootout winner…after starting 1-14-6, the Caps have now won two games in a row when allowing the first goal of the game…Andre Burakovsky was sent to Hershey due to the Grubauer recall since he is able to go down to the AHL without requiring waivers. #65 will return on Saturday and play on Sunday against the Flyers..Cam Schilling played on D for Green and was +1 in 13:42 of ice time.

 

 

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“I’m shuffling lines around, guys. I’ll let you know when I get it straightened out.” – Reg Dunlop, Charleston Chiefs

For 50 games, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been juggling his forward line combinations trying to find the right fits.

In game number 51, which turned out to be a Caps 4-0 rout of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, he just may have found his best forward line up yet.

Trotz moved Marcus Johansson, who is having his best pro season, up into the top right wing spot, and inserted rookie forward Andre Burakovsky into Jojo’s spot on the second line giving the Caps a very offensively talented top six crew of forwards. In addition, the bench boss took Jason Chimera and Michael Latta out of the lineup and went with a fourth unit of Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. The third line, Washington’s checking trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, went unchanged.

The result was a thing of beauty as the Capitals gap control was as good as it has been all season.

Taking the strong blue line play that the Caps have enjoyed all season combined with elite goaltending from Braden Holtby plus a very motivated hockey club this was a thorough whipping of a Kings team that still has Norris Trophy leading candidate Drew Doughty, all world goalie Jonathan Quick, and super forward Anze Kopitar. But Los Angeles is really not a Cup contender this season since they’re playing with a much weaker blue line due to the loss of Willie Mitchell (salary cap) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse charges). As I’ve been saying for years, it is tough to be consistent and win in the post season without a good blue line. Fortunately with the departure of former GM George McPhee, the Capitals finally figured it out in the offseason and brought in some talent that gives Washington a very deep crew on the back end.

But the key to becoming a really top team is to have not only strong goaltending and defense, but depth at forward. That has been the challenge for Trotz and his job has been tougher by having to work in two rookies in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, along with second year man Wilson. It’s not an easy task and being a rookie in the NHL is very difficult. But Trotz has brought each of them along differently given their age and history. Kuznetsov is starting to blossom into the second line center role and his behind the back pass to Troy Brouwer is one that you usually only see from the Nicklas Backstrom’s of the world. That 1st goal was so huge because the Caps were 24-1-4 when tallying first and 1-14-6 this season when yielding the first marker. That is quite a telling statistic.

On that Brouwer goal, of note was the forechecking pressure that Burakovsky put on Robyn Regehr. The heat from #65 forced Regehr to put Alec Martinez in bad position with the biscuit and the man who scored the Cup clinching tally against the Rangers made an errant pass to Karl Alzner on the left wing boards. Alzner found Kuznetsov below the goal line and a sweet pass later it was 1-0. Trotz praised Burakovsky afterwards and stated that pretty soon everyone will all know the kids name.

Not only did the super gap control lead to production, but it also kept Washington out of the penalty box. This Caps team has had a recent propensity of taking tripping, high sticking, interference, and hooking penalties that are often the result of poor positioning and a lack of structure. The Capitals only had to kill one penalty on Tuesday night, which was their lowest total since December 4th against Carolina (h/t to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post). You can add in discipline to that equation as Washington did not retaliate against a big Kings club. John Carlson took a couple of cheap shots from Kyle Clifford late in period two that somehow didn’t garner a penalty call from Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal (imagine that!). #74 could have easily gotten upset and attacked Clifford but Carlson kept his head and didn’t take an unnecessary penalty at a time when the game was still in question. Big kudos to Carlson there, that’s putting your team first, something we’ve seen more and more of this club this season than any other in the recent past.

Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Caps and Holtby came up big when he needed to be in stopping 27 shots. He made some key saves, with perhaps his best one coming on Jeff Carter in period two when it was still 1-0. Carter, who is a true sniper, appeared to have the top right corner picked but #70 managed to get most of his glove on the biscuit and knock it to the corner. Holtby also stoned Marian Gaborik on a semi-breakaway in period two. Holtby has now gone three straight games without allowing a goal in regulation and the only tally he yielded came in OT against the Habs and league MVP Carey Price on Saturday.

So the Caps end up going 1-1-1 against some of the better teams in the league with the lone regulation blemish coming against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blues are my current pick to win the Stanley Cup so a one goal defeat to them, after Washington played the day before while St. Louis rested, is not a black mark at all.

Washington is now 26-15-10 (62 points) and 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games (h/t to @ThePeerless). But the upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a day off on Wednesday, the Caps travel to take on a speedy Ottawa team on Thursday night, then come right home on Friday to play one of top teams in the NHL standings in the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday at 3 pm they get a hot Flyers team at the Verizon Center. We all know what I think of Philadelphia, but that’s a story for another day.

Notes: Brouwer had two goals in his 500th NHL game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had an assist. The Gr8 had 11 shot attempts…Washington led the shot attempt totals after 40 minutes, 40-21, that’s pretty impressive over one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. Game total shot attempts were 52-44 for the Caps…the Kings won the face off battle, 26-23, but Backstrom was 12-6 from the dot.

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Caps Blank Flyers on Rivalry Night

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Caps Blank Flyers on Rivalry Night

Posted on 15 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

You only get two points for a win during the regular season in the National Hockey League, but some victories are better than others.

For the Washington Capitals and their fan base, many of whom have stuck with them for 40 years since 1974, beating the Philadelphia Flyers has always seemed worth more than two points.

On Wednesday night in front of a national television audience on NBC’s Rivalry Night, the Caps Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots to make Jason Chimera’s goal, just 3:13 into the game, stand up for a 1-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center.

The triumph, the Caps seventh straight at home, puts them at 24-11-8 (56 points) for the season and they are a staggering 14-1-4 in their last 19 games. In addition, they are 23-1-3 this season when scoring first.

Those are some good numbers there and holding the Flyers, a team that averages close to 29 shots a game, to just 21 on the cage is significant too. Overall the shot attempt battle was 55-54 for the Flyers, but Washington blocked 23 of those shots from Philadelphia (the duo of Brooks Orpik and John Carlson blocked nine of them).

As mentioned above and on tv, this was rivalry night and the history between these two clubs is long. In the early days, truckloads of Flyers fans would invade the Capital Centre for Caps-Flyers tilts and the beer would flow and the fights would erupt in the stands. Nowadays, there are Philly fans in attendance, I could see a smattering of orange jersey’s and thankfully we never got to hear them cheer, but it is nothing like the old days. Still, there is a special vibe or air in the building when the neighbors from up I-95 come to town and the Capitals coaching staff recognized it before the game.

“I was talking to [assistant coach] Lane Lambert and he said it’s ramped up a little bit when the Flyers are in town…we haven’t played a lot of our Metro division – people like the Rangers, the Flyers…so we could tell there’s a different energy in the building when those teams come in,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz about his first home game against Philadelphia.

The Flyers had won the last four games, head to head, dating back to last season, so this was an important victory for the Capitals fan base. To many, Caps vs. Flyers is like Ravens-Steelers or Redskins-Cowboys in the NFL. Both teams respect each other, but they don’t like each other and when it comes to the fans, well they flat out despise the other fan base. So it was no surprise that down the stretch the Washington crowd was more into it than normal and their support seemed to energize the Caps players.

As for the game, it was an uneven one. Washington dominated early but couldn’t bury some great chances on Flyers 33 year old rookie goalie, Rob Zepp. The Zepper stopped Alex Ovechkin cold early on in a one on one situation and that seemed to help Philly, who was in jeopardy of being run out of the building, settle down. The game went back and forth for the sixty minutes with both sides carrying the play at various times.

Philadelphia had a stretch in the middle frame when it looked like they might take over the game but following a hard hit by Wayne Simmonds on Matt Niskanen in the neutral zone, Niskanen buried Scott Laughton with a hard, clean check that knocked #49 from the contest. Afterwards Trotz felt that the hit by Niskanen, who had the primary assist on Chimera’s goal, energized his club.

Overall the Caps had 26 shots on net but I thought they were too sloppy. There were far too many back passes that resulted in turnovers and the Washington top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Andre Burakovsky just didn’t look in sync. Burakovsky seems to be a bit intimidated by his linemates and is getting rid of the puck like it is a hot potato too often. The young Swede needs to settle down and carry the puck more, which is one of his strengths and allows him to create scoring chances.

At the end of the night, though, it was the Capitals vastly improved defensive play that allowed them to get another low scoring victory. Holtby, in his 26th straight contest and 20th straight start, was excellent again and when he needed assistance, guys like Orpik helped him out. #44 tied up Vincent Lecavalier’s stick late in the contest at the side of the net to prevent Vinny from notching a game tying tap in.

So now it is on to Nashville to face Trotz’ former team, the Predators, on Friday night. Trotz, in his post game presser, mentioned he chatted with Preds GM David Poile on Wednesday and that Poile was hopeful the Caps would beat Philly because he doesn’t like them. Poile was the Caps GM from 1982 to 1997, so he has a long history with the black and orange.

Trotz and the Caps did their former boss and more importantly, their fan base, proud on Wednesday night with a victory that now puts the Flyers 15 points behind the Capitals in the standings. It will be very difficult for Philadelphia to make the playoffs now.

Combine that fact, with the 1-0 blanking of the Broad Street Bullies, and you can bet that the food will taste better for several days.

Notes: Pekka Rinne, the Predators goalie and MVP, was injured in Tuesday’s game vs. Vancouver. Trotz stated that Rinne is out a couple of weeks so Washington gets a break and won’t have to face the super net minder in the Music City on Friday…Washington won the face off battle, 34-25, and Jay Beagle went 10-2…the Caps killed off all three Flyers man advantage situations while they went 0 for 2 with the man advantage (Ovechkin hit a post on one power play)…Carlson and Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 24:45 and 24:40, respectively…since Tom Wilson was a +1 on Wednesday, there is not a single active Capitals player with a negative +/- rating this season.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

At the 2013-14 midpoint, the Washington Capitals were sitting at 20-15-6, good for 46 points. But boy were things coming apart at the seams in a downward trend that started in early December. During that stretch, one in which Coach Adam Oates used three starting goalies to pretty much wreck Braden Holtby’s game, the Caps grew further apart as a team with three players asking for trades (Martin Erat, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Neuvirth). They were a squad that relied almost exclusively on their power play to win games and were very poor at even strength. In addition, in game 41, a loss at home to Carolina in overtime, they iced a defense of Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Steve Oleksy. The Caps would go 18-15-8 the rest of the way looking like a totally lost team that would miss the post season and ultimately cost Oates and GM George McPhee their jobs. Over the course of the season, the Capitals used 14 different defensemen and four goalies (traded for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline). That version of the Capitals was a team in total chaos.

Fast forward to today, after 41 games the Capitals are 22-11-8 (52 points) and following a sluggish start, have gone 12-1-4 in their last 17 games. Coach Barry Trotz has brought in a new system and a new attitude and GM Brian MacLellan added two quality players, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to a blue line that had been the team’s Achilles heel for several seasons. Trotz, who had coached the Predators since their first season, brought in an experienced coaching staff in Todd Reirden (defensemen), Lane Lambert (forwards), and Mitch Korn (goalies). All three have done a super job and Korn has allowed Holtby to get back to basics and return to the dominant level he was at in the spring of 2012 when the Caps narrowly missed making the Eastern Conference Finals. To date, they’ve used two goalies, with Holtby clearly the #1 net minder and carrying almost the entire load. On defense, they have quality and stability, they’ve only used seven different players on the back end. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made a point, following Saturday’s game, to comment on the vast difference in the Washington defense, stating “anytime you have [Mike] Green playing at number five you have a real good back end.” (h/t to CSN’s Chuck Gormley for the quote).

Things are looking very good for this Capitals team. The key word in that sentence being “team.” Center Nicklas Backstrom, who is having yet another superb season, talked on Sunday afternoon about how things are different than past years under Trotz.

“We’ve been talking a lot about before the season and during the season to stick together and work together and doing the right things. It’s real important that everyone is paying attention to small details like face off plays, what we’re doing before every draw, stuff like that, so I think a lot of guys are buying into that and we’re following the game plan. Maybe before we’ve been doing our own things, so that has helped us a lot, I think,” said #19 when asked about the culture change that Trotz is implementing with the Caps.

“They make each other accountable, they don’t accept just going through the motions. When you fight to just go through the motions, that’s not a good culture to have. We’re not doing that, we’re staying on task…I told the guys I didn’t like the way we were playing the last two games [before Detroit] and I told the guys [Saturday] morning that if we want to be the team we think we can be we’re going to get tested tonight. I didn’t like some of the red flags I saw those last two games, we still got points and we won games, but you have to be honest with yourself. There will be times where you lose games and I’ll be happy with the way we played, we just didn’t win the game. Even when you win, you have to be honest with yourself, did you deserve to win the game or did you luck out? I think we are pretty honest, we have good evaluations…so we recognize we have some work to do,” said Trotz when asked about the culture change and where the team is at.

After winning against the Red Wings, Trotz felt better about things but admitted they are still a work in progress.

“I was real happy in the third period with the way we managed the game. We didn’t generate a lot of offense, but we didn’t give up anything, even on six on five they had a little bit, but it wasn’t chaos out there, it was controlled and we forced them to try to execute at an extremely high level and they didn’t get any free looks or anything like that. So we’re better, just in our structure, we recognize possession and we recognized when they weren’t attacking the interior. We stayed patient and when they tried to, we’ll just make one adjustment that we need to do better and if it happens next game we’ll be even more prepared. We try to learn from things that happen, experiences that can make ourselves better, instead of hey we just got lucky. We look for things every day,” said Trotz.

All of the changes have certainly helped the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff picture and right now, it looks like they will make the post season. But there are 41 games to go and the race is tight. While just making the playoffs is key, this club has a bigger goal, to compete for a Stanley Cup. To get to that phase, they have a lot of work to do.

So in the second half the key will be to sustain their focus so that they can improve. Even doing that, there are question marks. One thing to be concerned about is Holtby’s work load. The key will be for Justin Peters to assert himself as a viable back up option, especially with nine back to back tilts scheduled. If Peters can’t perform, then MacLellan will have to find someone who will fill that role, otherwise the Caps not only risk missing the playoffs, but having a very fatigued goalie in April and beyond.

The defense needs to stay healthy and certainly with the depth they have in the top five, Trotz has been able to increase the probability of that by spreading out the minutes. Another key to staying healthy, and winning, is cutting down on the number of penalties the team takes. There have been recent stretches where the parade to the box has cost them points. Finally, they have to stabilize their forward line combinations. We’ve seen a rotating door with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top unit and the latest project is having rookie Andre Burakovsky fill the right wing role after Tom Wilson and some others struggled. The second scoring line has also been woefully inconsistent. Recently it has shown signs of life with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer lighting the lamp more frequently. How that trio plays will be a factor in any possible deep playoff run. Simply put, the forward situation is concerning and it remains to be seen if the young players, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Wilson, can improve enough by April to make this club a contender. If it looks like that isn’t going to happen then MacLellan will have to make a move for a top six forward.

Most of all though, this club needs to continue the process and commitment they’ve built up over the first 41 games and Backstrom certainly brought that home with his thoughts on Sunday afternoon.

“I think that it’s about time that we realize how to play as a team and right now it looks good but we have a long way to go. We’re not done yet, it’s just halfway through the season. We’ve got lots of work to do and we’re not where we want to be yet, so we really need to be humble and make sure we work hard every day and every night,” finished Backstrom.

 

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